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My Garden: How We Created Our Cottage-style Garden From Scratch

Lifestyle and interiors blogger Rebecca Sterling of Roses and Rolltops gives us a ‘before and after’ tour of her garden

Houzz UK Editorial Staff. I’m a freelance journalist with more than 13 years’ experience… More

A passion for plants, a willingness to get stuck in and a few budget-saving ideas helped interiors and lifestyle blogger Rebecca Sterling and her husband create the garden of their dreams – complete with gravel paths, cottage-style planting, a summerhouse, a garage and even a greenhouse. Here’s how they achieved it.

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Garden at a Glance
Who lives here Rebecca Sterling of blog Roses and Rolltops and her husband, Ben
Where Hertfordshire
Property A Regency house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms
Garden dimensions 15 x 28m

Photos by Adam Crohill for Rock My Style and Rebecca Sterling

For plant lovers Rebecca Sterling and her husband, Ben, the large garden at the back of their Hertfordshire home was was a big plus when they bought the property. They’d pretty much filled up their old garden and had hoped to gain some extra space for a greenhouse.

The expansive lawn and lack of flowers in the new plot provided the pair with an exciting blank canvas on which to create their own dream garden.

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“When we first bought the house, the garden was quite bare, with just a large lawn,” Rebecca says. “But there were some tall leylandii trees that we had to deal with early on. I soon realised we wouldn’t get any sun in the garden after 3pm, but as two of the trees were in the neighbours’ garden, we had to ask them first if we could cut them down.”

Luckily, the neighbours were also keen to remove the leylandii. The house is in a conservation area, so both parties applied to the council for permission and got a quote to remove the giant trees. Now the garden basks in summer sunshine until 7pm.

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“The garden was actually a two-stage process,” Rebecca says. “We knew we’d eventually do an extension, so the patio area had to wait for a while.”

See before and after shots of a dated kitchen made to feel bigger and cosier

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In the meantime, the couple set about designing the lawn area. With the welcome help of Rebecca’s brother’s university friends, they divided the grass into four sections, with flower beds either side of a path. They’d brought many of the plants with them from their old garden, and planted these around the flower beds.

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The couple added some concrete rope edging from their local builder’s merchant, then created paths with concrete slabs and a layer of gravel on top.

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At the end of the horizontal pathway, they added a cutout area for a bench, and put in tall plants such as foxgloves and hollyhocks behind it.

Lutyens-style bench, eBay.

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At the rear of the garden, Rebecca and Ben were keen to build a summerhouse to provide a cosy spot to sit, and to give the plot a focal point. The conservation area status of the property meant they had to apply to the council for approval first.

As soon as they got the go-ahead, Ben could start to build it. He decided to use a DIY summerhouse kit, which the couple purchased online and adapted to suit their own style. It made things much quicker, which was necessary, as they wanted to get it finished before their house extension started.

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Summerhouse painted in Clunch and Vert De Terre, Farrow & Ball. Base coat, Cuprinol. Tongue and groove summerhouse with apex roof, Amazon.

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The second part of Rebecca and Ben’s garden makeover came after they’d finished their kitchen renovation, complete with huge glass doors to connect the inside and outside.

The builders stayed on to dig out and level the patio. “We had to build it up a lot to make it the same level as the house, so you can step straight out. This was one of the biggest challenges and took quite a while to get exactly right,” Rebecca recalls.

Find great outdoor ideas from some of our most popular Garden Tours

Before Photo

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The patio is north-facing, so to avoid the possibility of a green layer appearing on the damp, sun-starved surface over the winter, the couple decided to have a gravel patio. “We laid very basic slabs to create a firm level and to add an extra layer of protection against weeds, then we put sand followed by gravel on top,” Rebecca says.

Paving slabs, Wickes.

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The gravel also works well with the cottage-style planting in the rest of the garden. “We have roses and a lavender hedge down the middle, with plenty of year-round interest everywhere,” Rebecca says. “There are allium bulbs, which come up in May, and dahlias that grow through the year, and the left side is wild and unstructured with cottage flowers.”

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A money-saving tip the couple swear by is to be clever with plants. “Our top tip is to buy plants at the end of the season, as they’re much cheaper then,” Rebecca says. “Even if they’re looking dead or lacklustre, you can keep them in a pot over the winter and plant them out to grow vigorously the following year.”

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To separate the lawn and patio, and to deal with the change of level, Ben built some raised beds at the rear of the gravel. “He laid breeze blocks to support the steps and built timber frames, then put sleepers in front of them,” Rebecca says. “We filled them with low-maintenance plants, such as box balls, lavender and Annabelle hydrangeas.”

Before Photo

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The couple grow lots of plants from seeds or cuttings, so they were keen to have a greenhouse. Ben built the timber-framed greenhouse and adjacent garage at the side of the patio himself.

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“He loves doing things like this,” says Rebecca, “and although building things yourself takes longer, it does save money.”

Rebecca plants a lot of her flowers in galvanised steel containers, which she buys cheaply at antiques markets. “There’s also a rolltop bath next to the greenhouse, which was just £20 on eBay, and I’ve planted lavender and roses in it,” she enthuses.

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There are still a few projects the couple would like to complete in their garden, but for now they’re looking forward to summer afternoons sitting at their patio table – another one of Ben’s creations, made from old scaffolding planks and antique sewing machine bases.

Tell us…
What’s your favourite thing about Rebecca and Ben’s garden? What would your ideal garden look like? Share your thoughts in the Comments section.
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